ARE GLOBAL-MINDED CONSUMERS LESS ETHNOCENTRIC BUYERS?
A CROSS-CULTURAL COMPARISON
Taewon Suh, Saint Louis University
Ik-Whan G. Kwon, Saint Louis University
Mueun Bae, Inha University
The starting point of this study is on the thought that different timings and dissimilar processes of globalization between countries may defy the notion of worldwide, unified effects of globalization on consumers in various cultures. Further, this study deals with the cross-cultural difference in the impact of buyers’ globalized mind-sets on their ethnocentric tendencies and
buying behaviors. To this end, we propose and test a path model including the constructs such as global openness, consumer ethnocentrism, product judgments, and reluctance to buy foreign products. Although many researchers have identified variables, which influence consumers to purchase foreign products, no study has been focused on what variables influence buyers’
behavior reluctant to purchase foreign goods. This research using samples from two countries (U.S. and Korea) explored influencing factors of consumers’ reluctance to purchase foreign goods.
The purpose of this study is three-fold. First, this study attempts to examine the roles of globalization in buying behaviors in the conceptual model incorporating global openness, consumer ethnocentrism, and product judgments as the influencers on reluctance to buy foreign products. Second, this study especially seeks to examine the different role of consumers’
globalized mind-sets on their buying behaviors between the two different cultures. Thus, conducted will be a cross-cultural comparison in product choice between consumers in a Western country and consumers in an Eastern country. Third, this study attempts to test statistically one of our assumptions that “reluctance to buy” may be distinctive from “willingness
to buy.” Using “reluctance to buy” as a core variable rather than “willingness to buy,” a
seemingly synonymous construct which has been used in the previous studies, our model will lose its value if we fail to support the assumption.
The samples were drawn from university students majoring in business in Korea (n = 128) and the United States (n = 120). Germany was chosen to be the producing country in the study. The respondents were asked to evaluate the perception of the general quality of products produced in Germany with other measures and assessed their reluctance to buy German products. Two structural equation models and two path models were estimated so as to test hypotheses.
The findings concerning Hypothesis 1, asserting the distinctive structure of the “reluctance”
construct from the “willingness” construct, provide the two possible conclusions. First, as proved in our samples, reluctance to buy foreign products may be a distinctive construct from willingness to buy foreign products even though we need more evidence with different samples hopefully from another culture in order to confirm this hypothesis. Second, the unexpected positive relationship between the two constructs in the Korean sample appear to suggest that the Korean consumers responded differently from the U.S. consumers, being neither reluctant nor willing to buy German products (Mean of willingness = 1.83, Mean of reluctance = 2.13).
With the tentative conclusion on the independent structure of reluctance to buy foreign products, we examined the relationships among global openness, consumer ethnocentrism, product judgments, and reluctance to buy foreign products in a cross-cultural context. Our results show that global openness does significantly affect consumers’ ethnocentric tendencies in a certain
cultural context (i.e., U.S.). And, in the same context, the impact of global openness on reluctance to buy is mediated by consumer ethnocentrism. Consumer ethnocentrism generally plays an important role in determining the magnitude of reluctance to buy a foreign product, and product judgments also play a part but only in a Western culture (i.e., U.S.). In a Western culture such as the U.S., consumers’ reluctance to buy foreign products might have been decreased by
perceived product quality, lowering consumer ethnocentrism, and indirectly developing global openness. However, in a different culture such as Korea, a decrease in consumer ethnocentrism appeared to be an only way to reduce the reluctant propensity of consumers. It appears that the reluctant propensity can hardly be diminished with improved perceived quality alone. To make it even harder, the consumer ethnocentrism tends to be not changed so much by globalization in that cultural context. For example, the standardized path coefficient between global openness and consumer ethnocentrism in Korea is only -.09 as oppose to -.47 in U.S.
It is concluded, therefore, that consumers in a different culture, who are fundamentally different in their tastes and preferences, perceptions, ordering of needs and motivations to consume, are still sufficiently different even after being exposed to the enormous wave of globalization. Based on our study, one of such differences was shown in the relationship between consumers’
globalized minds and their ethnocentric tendencies. Consumers in a Western culture, where it took centuries to develop the attitudes, conditions, and mechanisms supportive of free markets, might have decreased ethnocentric tendencies if they had been cultivated by the globalization process. On the other hand, consumers in an Eastern culture such as Korea, where globalization is being achieved in a more rapid fashion and mostly by governmental leadership, may have a different kind of global mind-set, which is cultivated by a distinctive way and less related to behavioral consequences such as decreased ethnocentric tendencies in their buying.
Our findings also suggest that, for the model for cross-cultural consumer behaviors, we should construct different frameworks for different cultural contexts (e.g., Western vs. Eastern) rather than a general framework spanning all the cultural contexts. The findings also suggest that sellers should adopt different strategies in different countries in order to be successful in inducing the reluctant consumers to purchase their products. If consumers are reluctant to buy foreign goods solely due to perceived poor product quality judgment and become globalized through their own initiatives, the market penetration may become relatively easier.
As globalization is an on-going process, the results of this study may hold true at the time of study. Definitely, consumers of near future will be more accepting of foreign products as globalization is accelerated around the globe. However, each culture’s distinctive processes and
dynamics in globalization will still resist the automatic, uniform application of the global market concept. Attention of international marketing researchers, thus, should be continuously given to the social and cultural differences newly constructed by the dynamics and structures in on-going processes of globalization.